WASHINGTON — Some members of Congress from Texas and Florida are combining forces to strengthen their hand in coming negotiations over hurricane relief for their states.  

Republicans and Democrats from both delegations have privately expressed frustration with party leadership and Trump administration officials for what they describe as insufficient hurricane relief for Hurricane Harvey in Texas, Hurricane Irma in Florida and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. 

A bipartisan group of members from both states met Friday morning to strategize how to best position their states in coming negotiations over the next week. The government faces a Dec. 8 deadline to agree on a spending plan and avoid a shutdown. The objective for the Florida and Texas group is to bring as much leverage as possible to those negotiations to secure what these members determine to be sufficient relief funding. 

Increasingly, the word "shutdown" is creeping into the lexicon of Democratic members from these two states.

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U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Houston Democrat who attended the meeting, said it outright Thursday at a U.S. Homeland Security Committee hearing.

"We do not have the adequate resources, and this is going to be on the verge of a government shutdown if Texas and all of the other victims of these hurricanes do not have a compromise where we can work together," she said. "I would encourage you to tell the president that it is not enough. It simply is not enough.”

The representatives attending Friday's meeting were mostly members of the U.S. House Appropriations and Ways and Means committees as well as other Houston-area members.

Even without unanimous support, just a fraction of the combined 63 members in the two delegations could create a formidable voting bloc on the U.S. House floor. There were rumblings earlier in the fall of such an alliance.

Last month, the Trump administration announced it was requesting $44 billion from Congress to assist with the Harvey aftermath as well as the recoveries from other recent hurricanes in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The figure was criticized as too small by elected officials from Texas and Florida.

Later Friday, 32 members from the two delegations officially expressed their opposition to the current aid proposal from Muvlaney's budget office in a letter.

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"As Members of the Congressional delegations of Texas and Florida, two states that sustained extensive damage in the recent devastating hurricane season, we write to express our strong dissatisfaction with the utterly inadequate disaster supplemental appropriations request from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)," they wrote.

"The severely underfunded request neglects the fundamental needs of our states and will not provide the bare minimum necessary for our states to continue recovering from the storms," they added. "Moreover, the funding currently proposed is not allocated to provide for an effective recovery. Unless the disaster supplemental appropriations bill is significantly improved before it is brought to a vote on the House floor, we will be unable to support this legislation."

Texas signees included: U.S. Reps. Brian Babin, R-Woodville; Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands; Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio; Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo; John Culberson, R-Houston; Ted Poe, R-Humble; Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston;
Al Green, D-Houston; Gene Green, D-Houston; Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen; Michael McCaul, R-Austin; Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land; Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi; Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth; Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville; and Randy Weber, R-Friendswood.

The Florida signees included Republican U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan, Mario Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Francis Rooney, Thomas Rooney, Dennis Ross; and Democratic U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist, Val Demings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Alcee Hastings, Al Lawson, Stephanie Murphy,  Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Darren Soto.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Between the federal government, the Red Cross and private charities, billions of dollars will be spent to help Texans rebuild and recover after Hurricane Harvey in Texas. The Tribune is tracking how it's spent. [Full story]

  • State officials want as few parameters as possible on federal disaster relief funds, but housing advocates say that could lead to public works projects getting federal funds over Texans who lost everything. [Full story]

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